BOOK REVIEW: Muslim future in India by Khaled Ahmed
Daily Times, July 27, 2008
Living with Secularism: The Destiny of India's Muslims
Edited by Mushirul Hasan, Manohar India 2007
In 2004, the elections in India have brought a new hope for Muslims but the BJP is still strong in opposition and continues to echo Golwalker, the founder of RSS who had said in 1947 that non-Hindus in India must learn to glorify only the Hindu religion. NC Chatterjee of Hindu Mahasabha had said in 1949 that Muslims must accept Mahabharata and Ramayana as their own instead of Arabic and Persian classics
In 2004, Indian scholar Mushirul Hasan had challenged Indian secularism under the BJP dominance and its doctrine of Hindutva with his book, Will Secular India Survive?, but the general election the same year brought the Congress-led UPA government to power as a people’s response to majoritarian communalism of the BJP and its ‘family’ of organisations.
This selection of essays presents a more satisfying analysis of what India is doing to its Muslims. After 2004, Hindutva has not gone away. It threatens the Muslims more than the other communities because: 1) Muslims are the largest religious minority in India and the second largest Muslim population in the world; 2) Muslims are erstwhile rulers of India and the memory presents them as a threat to Hindu majority; 3) Muslims are considered as members of a settler colony by Sangh Pariwar; 4) Muslims get excluded by majoritarian nationalism with Pakistan as the ‘other’ and Indian Muslims as a separatist population; 5) Muslims are targets of all communal riots; 6) Muslims serve as instruments of Hindu unity under Hindutva because India is presented as being under threat from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir; 7) Muslims are steady targets of communal riots; and 8) Muslims spoil the Indian monolithic identity as a Hindu Rashtra and are an obstacle in India’s unification.
American scholar Theodore P Wright Junior gives us a projection of what might happen to the Muslims of India in the coming days. First he tells us how a group becomes subordinate: voluntary or involuntary immigration, ritual pollution, religious conversion, changing boundaries, differential of birth and emigration rates, group status reversal, relations with the majority group. Subordination occurs if the population is on the border and the border is next to a population of the enemy state of the same religion.
Fear of Muslims is aroused by the fact that their population, although only 13 percent of the total, has grown to this number in fifty years more quickly as compared to the Hindus. Is this fear comparable to the Christian fear aroused in Lebanon of ethnic supersession by Muslims through birth rate after 1943, ending in the civil war of 1975-88? There is Muslim majority in Kashmir and large Muslim minorities in West Bengal and Assam near the border of an adjoining Muslim state that equally arouse fear and loathing. Then there is the memory of Muslim rule for three hundred years which puts off the upper caste Hindus.
[The following states have Muslim minorities as indicated by percentages: Assam (28 percent), Kerala (23 percent) West Bengal (23 percent), Uttar Pradesh (17.3 percent), Bihar (16 percent) and Karnataka (16 percent). Needless to say the largest number live in the UP where the total population is more than that of Pakistan.]
Southern and coastal India doesn’t hate the Muslims as much as the Indian north and northwest, but may begin to have communal riots as BJP and its friends spread their influence there. It is possible that Muslims may actually be squeezed into the coastal areas in the South to join the non-threatening “middlemen Muslims”: Memons, Khojas, Bohras, Navayats, Marakayyars, Lebais, Rawthors and Mapillas. They pose no threat to the majority dominance. Muslims in Hyderabad, Bhopal and Junagadh are humorously equated to past elites but they are in fact local poor Hindu converts who can never challenge the Hindus unless they step out of poverty and acquire education.
If India and Pakistan proceed on their hostile course and threaten each other with nuclear weapons, the Muslims in India will face the possibility of subordination, expulsion and genocide. This is gleaned from the history of what happened to such minorities elsewhere in the world. But if things remain normal the Muslims of India will face the following four options: assimilation, pluralism, secession and dominance. The experience of the Palestinians vis-à-vis Israel is a pointer because the Israeli population seems to have arrived at the consensus of expulsion.
In India under Nehru, autonomy and pluralism were the tools of treatment for Muslims. This pluralism compelled the Congress to refuse to impose a uniform Civil Code on Muslims. What followed was the escalation of communal riots targeting Muslims and the decay of Gandhian ideals in the post-Nehruvian period after the 1960s. Now Hindu nationalists want the Muslims to assimilate into a Hindu-defined nation. Behind this came coercive notions finding their physical fulfilment in the Gujarat pogroms in 2002.
In 2004, the elections in India have brought a new hope for Muslims but the BJP is still strong in opposition and continues to echo Golwalker, the founder of RSS who had said in 1947 that non-Hindus in India must learn to glorify only the Hindu religion. NC Chatterjee of Hindu Mahasabha had said in 1949 that Muslims must accept Mahabharata and Ramayana as their own instead of Arabic and Persian classics (p.289). But if India develops as a modern state as evidenced already in the metropolises then the Muslims will get by without being persecuted. They will be visible but their maltreatment will not be allowed by the modern Hindu.
It is useful in some regions to have become invisible, that is, without the markers that announce a Muslim as a separate identity. Since there is racial similarity the names are a usually a giveaway, but in some states the names are becoming uniform, for instance in the case of A Premjee, one of India’s big names in electronics. A stands for Azeem. Even in America where the Jewish people are generally not persecuted many Jews have named themselves away from their Semitic origins: Lewis Libby, John Bolton and Bernard Lewis are Jews.
In big business, like the entertainment industry, big Muslims names have become iconic and this is the location where the rare Muslim can hope to survive normally. But the final solution according to the author lies in Indo-Pak relations.
The crunch comes when the Indian states include Muslims in the “affirmative action” programmes aimed at providing relief to the very poor in India. Laws exist to correct the social imbalance between the accepted castes and those that don’t get mentioned as castes. The non-scheduled castes or untouchables in India outnumber even the Muslims and are frequently given protection through reservation of jobs.
Commissions set up to recommend reforms have included Muslims in the category of other backward classes (OBCs) since they are not untouchables. They are 8 percent of the OBC which itself comprises 27 percent of the population. That makes half of the Muslims of India backward. *